Look, we’re not here to belittle Illinois’ dreams of a third Big Ten tournament championship. You won’t find us disputing that Iowa, winner of six straight games, is playing as well as any team heading into this event.
Far be it from us to try to turn you off of brilliant Ohio State freshman D’Angelo Russell as he attempts to write March heroics into his one-and-done career story.
But here’s the thing about the three teams mentioned above, along with the five others, including Northwestern, that’ll participate in Thursday’s quadrupleheader at the United Center: They’re about as likely to win this thing as Doug McDermott is to put up a playoff triple-double.
To put it another way: One of the four teams that won’t debut until Friday — No. 1 seed Wisconsin, No. 2 Maryland, No. 3 Michigan State or No. 4 Purdue — almost surely will be the last one standing on Sunday. In the 17-year history of the Big Ten tourney, only one team seeded lower than fourth, No. 6 Iowa in 2001, cut down the nets.
In fact, only one No. 4 seed — Michigan in 1998 (later vacated) — and a pair of No. 3s have won it, compared with seven No. 1s and six No. 2s. Which is not to say Thursdays games are irrelevant. Cinderella stories sometimes happen, for one thing, and who are we kidding? Postseason college basketball always is a good thing.
With all the talk this season about Kentucky trying to become the first college team to go unbeaten since Indiana did it in 1975-76, a real connection has been made between the Wildcats and Hoosiers, certainly two of the iconic basketball programs in the country.
But Indiana basketball really has fallen off over recent years, which every Big Ten fan realizes. And here’s another way to illustrate that: The Hoosiers — it almost sounds crazy to say it — are 0-for-17 in the Big Ten tournament. That’s zero championships, and there has been only one appearance in the title game, all the way back in 2001.
A.J. Guyton, Jared Jeffries, D.J. White, Victor Oladipo, Cody Zeller — IU has had some very strong players during the Big Ten’s tournament era. But something has been missing in Bloomington, and clearly it’s still missing.
Illinois over Michigan: The teams split a pair of overtime game this season, but the Illini have to feel good about their defense against a depleted Michigan rotation. Watch out for Wolverines freshman Aubrey Dawkins, though — the son of Stanford coach and former Duke star Johnny Dawkins had a double-take-inducing eight three-pointers in the regular-season finale.
Iowa over Penn State:Something about the Hawkeyes’ approach just hasn’t worked — at all — in this tournament through recent years, but Aaron White and Jarrod Uthoff have too much length for the Nittany Lions. If only D.J. Newbill had his own running mate, PSU might be in business.
Indiana over Northwestern:The Hoosiers’ speed and athleticism — watch out for slashing forward Troy Williams — will be problems for NU. It’s going to be close and exciting, though, and the Wildcats do have a decent shot to pull off the upset.
Minnesota over Ohio State:Sometimes in tournaments like this one, it’s a big advantage to have played the night before. The Gophers should start pretty fast, putting a lot of pressure on the young Buckeyes.